Applying a Constructive-Developmental Approach to Issues of Sexual Orientation and Religion in Career Counseling

Article excerpt

An individual's constructive development, or system of meaning making, is relevant to the process of career counseling. A description of constructive-developmental theory and how that theory may be integrated in career counseling is provided, focusing on a case study that addresses issues of sexual orientation and religious identity. Methods for assessing constructive development are explored, and literature relating to the effectiveness of this approach is discussed.

Guindon and Richmond (2005), in their review of recent professional literature related to career counseling and career development, reported an increasing focus on constructivist theories in the field. In this article, I outline an approach to career counseling that is informed by Kegan's (1982,1994) theory of constructive development. Kegan (1982, 1994) has conceptualized development as a series of emergences from embeddedness in one particular way of knowing and understanding self, others, and the world, to more complex and adaptive ways of making meaning. McAuliffe (1993) previously integrated Kegan's theory with career practice by asserting that the way an individual constructs meaning informs his or her ability to adaptively face career challenges. My intent is to provide a full-length case example that more clearly elucidates how the constructive-developmental approach may be applied to a specific career counseling case. First, I review literature related to the constructive-developmental approach. I then present a case of a client dealing with issues of sexual orientation and religious identity. In my response to this case study, constructive-developmental case conceptualization and assessment are discussed as important intervention elements. I close with a discussion of literature that relates to the effectiveness of the constructive-developmental approach.

Review of Relevant Literature

According to Kegan (1982, 1994), development is conceptualized as a process in which the individual constructs and reconstructs personal meanings over the life span. In this process, a series of meaning-making stages develop that frame the way the person views the self and encounters the world. As new information or experience challenges the individual's current meaning stage, a new system for understanding the self and the world is constructed. Through a constant process of assimilation and accommodation, periods of balance or truce that maintain the current meaning-making stage occur, alternating with periods of imbalance or disequilibrium that lead to the construction of qualitatively new ways of making meaning.

Kegan (1982, 1994) has conceptualized five primary stages of development, with transitional stages between each. However, most adults make meaning in ways characterized by two of these stages (Kegan, 1994; Kegan et al., 2001}, which Kegan has called the Interpersonal Balance and the Institutional Balance stages. Therefore, for the purposes of this article, I briefly describe these two primary adult stages of development. Readers who are interested in more detailed descriptions of these or the other stages are referred to Kegan's work (1982, 1994) or to articles by Hooper (2006) and McAuliffe (1993).

The Interpersonal Balance stage (Kegan, 1982, 1994) is an expected stage of constructive development for many older adolescents and many adults. At this stage, individuals are theorized to be embedded in interpersonal relationships and roles related to these relationships. Rather than having relationships, these individuals may be defined by relationships. Hall and Chandler (2005) have theorized that Kegan's conceptualization can be integrated when considering career concerns. They argued that in less complex meaning-making stages, such as the Interpersonal Balance stage, an individual can be embedded in his or her career performance and may be defined by the career role. Furthermore, Kegan (1982, 1994) has contended that because the self is generally not individuated when making meaning at the Interpersonal Balance stage, what is important to the person is often related to what is viewed as acceptable by the individual's reference group. …

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